Raleigh, N. C.~Last week, I wrote about the inability of federal, law-based education reform to fix what really ails our schools. Top-down legislative change, even when marked by good intentions, is inherently problematic. This is because federal laws so often bear the imprimatur of well-financed interest groups and political powerbrokers – clearly not the most ardent advocates for the needs of children.
Fortunately, some lawmakers around the country are giving special interest lobbyists the boot, passing school-choice legislation that lets parents (not administrators) decide where kids go to school. At its most fundamental level, choice shifts the balance of educational power away from the establishment and back toward families; students are then free to use public dollars to attend the public or private school of their choosing. Currently, more than 20 different parental choice programs operate in 11 states, representing a sea of change in education reform ideology over the past two decades.
Even more remarkable is the fact that in the past eight days, legislative bodies in three states have passed choice legislation. On January 31st, the Georgia Senate passed the Special Needs Scholarship Act, giving public school students with disabilities scholarships to attend eligible private schools. On February 6th, the Virginia Senate passed the Students with Disabilities Tuition Assistance Grant Program, providing grants for special needs students to attend a nonsectarian private
school of choice. That same day, the Utah House voted by a narrow margin (38 to 37) to pass House Bill 148, a universal Education Voucher program. If enacted, this legislation would provide every family in Utah with school choice – the first program of its kind in our country, and the culmination of Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman’s vision of universal school choice.
Not surprisingly, the GOMs (Gatekeepers of Mediocrity) are wringing their hands, equating attempts to empower parents with choice as an attack on public schools, even though mounting research indicates choice is good for public schools. According to the Virginia Education Association (the state affiliate of the union behemoth, the National Education Association), the passage of choice legislation for special needs kids in that state marked “a sad day for Virginia’s public schools.” Boo-hoo, indeed!
Lindalyn Kakadelis heads the North Carolina Education Alliance.